Friday, April 22, 2011

Slug Slime and Other Weirdness

If you’ve ever planted a garden in western Oregon, you’re acquainted with slugs, or at least their damage. Did you know these pests are invasive species? Nine out of the 10 species of pest slugs in Oregon are non-native.* Like a lot of other little invertebrates, they’ve hitchhiked around the world in soil, including potted plants.

If you have a hankering to find slugs, the best time to do so is early morning. They don’t like sun, which may explain why they thrive around here—especially when one considers the lack of sun we’ve experienced this spring . . .

I share my garden with several invasive species and the native hotdog-sized Pacific banana slug, Ariolimax columbianus. I’m on a first name basis with these guys. I call them all “Larry.”  Banana slugs are too big for me to kill without feeling bad, so I give them flying lessons every time I encounter one. They always seem to come back for more, so maybe they like it. Larry is a real Oregonian, and not generally considered a pest, but he sure likes my lettuce,and last year he nearly ate my precious giant pumpkin seedling before I spotted him chowing down from a second story window.

Larry and I have a hands-off relationship. His slime is amazing. It does not wash off—soap and water won’t touch it. A quick Internet search indicates scientists have noticed that banana slug slime sticks particularly well to skin, it might have antiseptic properties, and someday it could be useful as a biological glue.

If it weren’t for the slime, I might try Larry for dinner. Other people have eaten them.**  Oregon escargot anyone? Regular escargot comes from European brown garden snails, Helix aspersa, another garden invader. Brown garden snails are established along the Oregon coast and in numerous residential neighborhoods in our cities and towns. Every year, I find a few on the sidewalk near the my office. Their shells are fragile, so I suspect they graze the sidewalk for calcium, a much-needed nutrient that fortifies their shells and protects their soft innards.

As if encountering banana slugs in my garden and watching snails grazing on sidewalks isn’t weird enough, years ago I encountered a slug at eye-level dangling in mid-air from a tree branch. It gets weirder. Some slugs mate in mid-air! If you don’t believe me, check out this video: Don’t try this at home!

Dan Hilburn


1 comment:

  1. I'm not sure if this is a native or not, but it was waaay too big to fit in my plastic cup...:-)